UPDATE(Nov. 2, 2021 10:56 a.m.)
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The Randolph County School Superintendent has decided to withdraw the expulsion request for a Tygarts Valley High School student for social media posts the student made, related to a controversy over a mural at the school, according to the ACLU of WV.
“Our client had the constitutional right to speak out, and it was also the right thing to do.
He should have been commended, not faced punishment,” read a statement from the ACLU.
ORIGINAL STORY(Oct. 27, 2021 5:35 p.m.)
CHARLESTON, W.Va. – The American Civil Liberties Union of West Virginia (ACLU-WV) announced Wednesday that it will represent a Randolph County high school student who is facing expulsion. The student was “exercising his First Amendment rights to warn LGBTQ+ classmates of potential threats against their safety,” according to a news release.
The student learned of the threats after protests that were led by students who were upset over a mural at Tygarts Valley High School that depicted a rainbow and proclaimed that all people are equal, the release said.
The rainbow portion of the mural was later painted over.
The student’s social media posts were shared outside of school hours, the ACLU said. Last June, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in Mahanoy v. B.L. that schools are far more limited in policing student speech that occurs off campus than expression that occurs in school during school hours, the ACLU cited. The Court, citing the landmark case Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District, which protected students’ rights to protest during school hours, noted it was clear that students “do not shed their constitutional rights to freedom of expression,” according to the ACLU’s news release.
The Superintendent of Randolph County Schools has recommended that the student be expelled. The student will be represented at the expulsion hearing by ACLU-WV Legal Director Loree Stark, according to the news release.
“Our client’s speech falls clearly within the purview of First Amendment protections and if the Randolph County School Board moves forward and expels him, it will be in violation of his free speech rights,” Stark said. “Further, we have seen over the past many years so many tragic incidents of mass violence in schools. To punish a student for simply attempting to warn others of potential serious harm will only discourage other students from coming forward to report and share concerns they may have about their own safety and the safety of others.”
The ACLU-WV is keeping the name of the student confidential to protect his and his family’s safety, officials said.